LOS ANGELES - Small groups of demonstrators around the country marched and chanted to urge federal regulators not to give large media companies more control over the nation's newspapers, television and radio stations.
Thursday's demonstrations were staged just four days before the Federal Communications Commission was to consider eliminating many restrictions on media ownership in the same city.
Stephen Myers of Berkeley, Calif., gags his mouth while protesting in front of Clear Channel Communications offices, Thursday, May 29, 2003, in San Francisco. Protesters in more than a dozen cities urged federal regulators Thursday to reject changes that would allow large media companies to own television and radio stations and newspapers in the same cities. Protesters say Clear Channel stifles diverse points of view by programming local stations with national shows. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Another proposal would raise an existing market cap that prevents any one company from owning a combination of TV stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households.
In Los Angeles, about 60 people marched outside Clear Channel talk radio station KFI with signs reading, "No Choice, No Voice: Reclaim Our Airwaves."
"We're frozen out," said Karen Pomer, a member of the group Code Pink, which organized the protest and also rallied for peace during the war in Iraq. "All of this is benefiting conservative voices."
About a dozen people protested outside the Clear Channel building in Pittsburgh. Protesters carried a woman's pink slip scrawled with the words, "You are canceled for assault on free speech."
A Clear Channel spokesman said media coverage of the protests is evidence that diverse viewpoints are not ignored.
"Americans today have more diverse choices for entertainment, news and information than ever before," said Andrew Levin, Clear Channel's senior vice president for government affairs. "Radio is the only medium I know where the customer can switch providers at 60 mph."
San Antonio-based Clear Channel has become a favorite target for those who oppose deregulation. The company owns 1,200 stations nationwide, including nine in Los Angeles.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said the regulatory changes are needed to reflect a market altered by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the Internet. If the FCC doesn't act, outdated rules will be swept away by court challenges, he said.
A protest in New York was organized by United for Peace and Justice NY, an anti-war group. About 150 people picketed outside station WWPR and carried signs that read, "Farewell Free Speech, We'll Miss You" and "The Airwaves Belong to the People, not Clear Channel."
Relaxing restrictions on media ownership is opposed by the two Democrats on the FCC and backed by the three Republicans, including Powell. The FCC hearing was set for Monday in Washington.
Proponents include large media companies such as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns television stations as well as the Fox network. Murdoch is also seeking regulatory approval for his purchase of a controlling share of the satellite television service DirecTV.
Another media titan, Ted Turner, is on the other side. In an op-ed piece Friday in The Washington Post, he said that even though he's a major shareholder in conglomerate AOL Time Warner, he believes the proposed rules "will stifle debate, inhibit new ideas and shut out smaller businesses trying to compete."
He said he bought a UHF television station as a fledgling entrepreneur, but no one could do that now, because "they're all bought up."
© 2003 The Associated Press